While we were in Nebraska four years ago, I was very concerned about one of our students. This student had a friendship that seemed very unhealthy and which was affecting her in many areas, including her school work. She was also struggling with panic attacks. These were issues I felt were very pressing and needed to be resolved immediately. As I prayed for her, these issues were in the front of my mind.
When I prayed for each student, I would think of all I knew about the student and lay it before God and then ask God to show me how to pray specifically for that student. God would bring Scriptures to my mind, and I would pray these Scriptures over the student. Then I would write the student a card sharing the verses I had prayed for her or him.
For this student, God gave me three Scriptures. The first was Paul's prayer in Ephesians 3. Paul prayed that the Ephesians would be rooted and established in love. The second was from Hosea 2, where Israel's name is changed from "not loved" to "loved". The third was Zephaniah 3:17, which speaks of God rejoicing over us with singing.
Because I was concerned for the student, and because she had requested prayer regarding the panic attacks, I found myself praying for this student many times. Each time I would ask God how to pray, He gave me the same three verses, so I would pray them for her. But, when I would try to pray that God would remove her from the unhealthy friendship and set her free from panic attacks, I would feel God telling me not to pray those things.
At first, I prayed as He told me and let go of my thoughts for her, but after a few times, I remember being very frustrated. I felt very clearly that God didn't want me to pray regarding the things I felt were vitally urgent, but I didn't know why. So as I was praying that day, I burst out, "Why won't You let me pray that You remove these things? They are clearly bad for her, but You won't let me ask that You remove them." Immediately, I heard, "The wheat and the tares."
The wheat and the tares (weeds) was a parable. A man had sown wheat in his fields, and an enemy had sown weeds in the same field. The servants asked their master whether they should remove the weeds, and he said no, that would uproot the wheat. I saw that God was asking me to pray that her roots would be strengthened so that the weeds might be safely removed. I remembered then that doctors often delay important surgery until the patient is strong enough for it.
Over the next few days, I came to understand even more. I was reading through the books of Moses. I saw how powerful God's holiness is. It is so strong, people died by encountering it. I saw that God told His people He wouldn't drive out the former inhabitants of the promised land too quickly, or wild animals would increase too much. I remembered the passage about the demon who was cast out only to return with seven more. I came to understand that God was saying He would not remove anything from a person's heart too quickly. He would not remove anything until the person was strong enough for Him to replace the thing with Himself. I came to understand that He enters our hearts slowly and gradually as we are strengthened.
I also saw that truly, this student was not ready for Him to remove the panic attacks and the friendship. To her, they were supplying a need. She did not know, except in theory, God's love for her, His deep valuing of her. If God removed the friend, who seemed to value her, and the panic attacks, which seemed part of who she was, she would be left with nothing, and that would be devastating. But as God's love for her became tangible to her, that love would drive out panic and right her friendships.
What amazes me most about this revelation is God's love. He ignores what we would address – the lifestyle and emotional changes. Instead, He focuses on communicating His love for us. He wants His love to so saturate us that it reaches the deepest places of our hearts. Where we would say, "Change. Change. Change." or "God loves you. Change. Change." He says, "I love you. I love you. I love you." And it is that love which is transforming.